One awesome thing (among the many) about being a book lover: We are everywhere. You meet us in all walks of life. We’re baristas and hairdressers and rock stars. We’re actors and athletes and foodies. Sometimes we’re writers or college professors or artists. We might be wide-eyed babies or angst-y teens or multitasking moms or serene middle agers.
Thanks to my dear friend Jessica Collins and her column “On the Children’s Shelf,” I’ve been, over the last year, rediscovering my love of children’s literature. In a recent piece, she shared a related reading resolution that is dear to my heart: Making time for family reading and reading aloud together.
Family read aloud time is my favorite time. I love the shared experience of the words and images and how the shared experience invites us to slow down. I love how it changes the way we receive and process a story. I love talking about the characters as if they’re our mutual friends and rehashing what parts of the story we each connected to and what parts most resonated. I love sharing my favorite pastime with my favorite people.
Years ago, I took a Victorian poetry class with a professor who looked like Satan dressed up as Colonel Sanders. He was elfishly tiny and wore an ecru linen suit, complete with black string tie. His neatly trimmed beard created a perfect “V” from his laugh lines to his chin. Among these distinctive features were two more: his southern drawl and his assertion that “There is no such thing as American literature.”
As previously mentioned, the hashtag #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks captured my attention in a big way. It inspired me to take a good look at how many books I own that I have not yet read, and the results were sobering. Which is to say: I own too many books that I have not yet read, and it’s time I gave those books my attention.
I’m ambivalent about annual reading challenges, as I’ve seen they can sometimes have unintended consequences, of the undesirable sort. For the foreseeable future, I won’t be doing any challenges that involve reading a particular number of books per year. But a challenge that invites me to rediscover the books I bought that have somehow managed to disappear into my tottering stacks (before being read, I might add) sounds excellent. The temptation to purchase wonderful, intriguing new books will be fierce, I expect. But I will do my best to keep tackling those existent stacks.
By the time I moved to Connecticut, I had already made a habit of reading Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” at Christmas time. I had made it habit but not yet a tradition.
The decision to commit to rereading it every year began the snowy winter we lived in a one-story cottage dating to the mid-18th century. It had a huge picture window overlooking the backyard, which had a creek running through it and, on the opposite bank, a nature preserve. In the living room, a gigantic stone fireplace (about the size of the studio apartment I had once lived in) dominated one wall and featured a cooking arm dating to the colonial period. Continue reading “Rereading “A Christmas Carol” at Christmas Time”
Before 2012, “Northanger Abbey” was the only Jane Austen classic I had not read. Upon remedying this shocking lapse (I mean, she only wrote six completed novels – how hard it is to read her whole canon?), I decided it was my favorite Austen novel. Though I’m skeptical that we can trust these judgments…
At any rate, I reread this sparkling classic novel recently for a book group and fell in love with it all over again. What makes it so special, to me at least, is that it’s both a witty send-up of gothic novels and a serious defense of novels as an art form. In the process, Austen reminds us that the issue isn’t form as much as it is substance. It’s what we do with what we have that counts. Continue reading “The Wit and Wisdom of “Northanger Abbey””
Since Stephen Mitchell’s 2011 translation of the The Iliad came out, I’ve been telling myself that I should reread this epic poem. The last time I read it, I was in high school studying modern Greek with a tutor. This tutor came to my house each week. Seated at a round table in my parents’s shades-of-brown family room, with its faux wood-paneled walls, I’d read out loud from a modern Greek translation of The Iliad. I think maybe we discussed it? I can’t recall exactly how I felt about the poem, other than that it seemed to involve a lot of killing, trash talking, and whining gods.
Four years after purchasing Mitchell’s translation and reverently placing it on my bookshelf, I finally got around to the task of reading it. Turns out, I wasn’t so off the mark with my initial assessment. Also: It’s one of the saddest books I’ve ever read, and an absolute must read for anyone who wants to understand the human condition.